According to Henri Nouwen, “Living a spiritual life requires a change of heart, a conversion. Such a conversion may be marked by a sudden inner change, or it can take place through a long, quiet process of transformation. But it always involves an inner experience of oneness. We realize that we are in the center, and that from there all that is and all that takes place can be seen and understood as part of the mystery of God’s life with us.” This conversion, or change of heart is at the very center of our Lenten journey as a spiritual renewal of our discipleship. We seek that oneness through our prayer and silence before God.
Nevertheless, it’s so easy to get thrown off the path even within these short 40 days. In fact, right now many of us are struggling to keep up with our Lenten commitments, even with our prayer stones in our pockets as a reminder! Please do not give up. Stay the course. Lean into Lent. St. Ignatius shares a remedy for when we find ourselves straying from our commitments, one that I have found to be profoundly successful in my own life—to double down on our commitments and increase them slightly to emphasize our determination to beat the Devil. If we promised to give up alcohol for 2 days a week, then we would increase it to 3 days a week and work with more diligence. If we promised to pray for 10 minutes extra and we find ourselves slipping down to 5 minutes, or not at all, then we would double down and make the commitment to 12 minutes and time ourselves. It is a snub to the Devil who thinks he is winning the battle for our hearts. Make coming to your prayer each day a priority even if you fall asleep when you get there. Make it a priority to come to Church on Sundays and add one more daily Mass to your routine “to sharpen the saw.” Just don’t give up, no matter how many times you fail. The effort and intention are more important than the success. The Lord knows our intentions better than ourselves.
It also helps to focus on the goal or purpose of our Lenten challenges and indeed our discipleship as a whole. The purpose of our discipleship is to follow Christ in action more clearly and to love God more dearly. In reading the book “Die with Zero” (Perkins) with the Men’s Group on Thursdays, many of us are struggling with the concept of “creating experiences that you will remember” as if all great experiences can be “created” or “planned and purchased.” We readily acknowledge that in our own lives many great experiences “happened to us” at the most unusual times and they often involve people who are not our closest friends. So “being open” (or being mindful to the present moment) to the potential of great experiences in our lives is as important as trying to create them. Fr. Kevin O’Brien, SJ summed it up well in his recent book “Seeing With the Heart.” He writes, “To live with purpose means that we pilgrims focus on our destination so we stay on course while also paying attention to our experience on the journey so that we can appreciate its meaning or beauty…Wisdom or insight unfolds, sometimes very gradually.”
The journey of Lent mirrors the pilgrimage of life in that we try to pay attention to God who is already present in our lives. We strive to see God in every moment, even in the sad and joyful ones. We seek to bring Christ to others through our actions of kindness, gentleness, and love. It is through these actions we are able to accept that the beauty of life slowly unfolds to us, even when we find it difficult to appreciate the meaning of things as they happen. That is why prayer and reflection are so important; God reveals even more to us when we are silent and open to learning rather than running headlong into life. It is my hope that we allow ourselves to slow down and pray more during Lent. Most importantly, we open our hearts to silent prayer and listen for that gentle voice of God that often comes to us in a quiet whisper.
Next week, on March 13-15 from 7:00 pm-8:30 pm John Angotti and I will host our Lenten retreat “Keeping Time…Sacred”, focusing on this challenge of being present to this moment, to this time we share right now…not tomorrow, not yesterday, but NOW. We will focus on keeping this time…sacred. John and I will banter back and forth with words of wisdom from the saints and scripture and John will infuse music and lyrics that draw us into a mystery beyond ourselves. Words alone cannot draw us into the mystery of God’s love for us, so we will use sacred music to help us fall upwards into God’s loving arms. We will close the three days of retreat with a Taize Prayer service on Wednesday, March 15 at 7:00pm. At this prayer service, we have invited several parishioners to share witness talks about a time of conversion, a time of renewal, a time of joyous reunion with God in their lives. We hope these reflections inspire you to remember your own memories of divine interruption and open yourself to more possibilities during the remaining weeks of our Lenten journey.
We encourage you to join us and invite a friend to these sessions. If you find it hard to travel at night, then join us via our livestream and invite friends to watch with you. Here is the link. Please join us on Fridays for our Stations of the Cross at 6:00 pm and our Soup Supper that follows at 6:30pm. May we stay focused on our purpose during these 40 days and indeed for our lives as disciples as we deepen our prayer and reflection this Lent.